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Alleged polygamist cult leader in Jerusalem is indicted

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(JTA) — The leader of an alleged cult in Jerusalem that is suspected of severely abusing women and children was indicted.

The 55-year-old Jerusalem resident, who has not been named, and two of his closest followers were indicted on charges including imprisonment, abuse, serious sexual abuse and slavery. The leader had emigrated from France and is a follower of the Breslov Chasidic sect.

Nine members of the alleged cult had been arrested in raids last month on their homes in Jerusalem and Tiberias, the details of which were released Tuesday by Jerusalem police. The raids culminated a 10-week undercover investigation by police.

The probe began after a young girl who had willingly lived with the cult for two years fled and filed a complaint. Another investigation into the group a year ago for polygamy and indecent assault was closed due to a lack of evidence.

Israel prohibits polygamy, although according to a 2008 survey, hundreds of Israeli families keep plural marriages, particularly among the Bedouin community.

In July, an Orthodox group placed advertisements in a broadly circulated religious paper arguing that polygamy be reinstated into Jewish law.

The investigation found that over the past 10 years, the Jerusalem man was married unofficially to six divorced women and exercised total control over their children. Over the past two years, according to police, the instances of abuse increased dramatically.

The indictment also said that the alleged cult leader sent the women and children to raise money across Israel to finance his lifestyle, and forced them to lie about injuries caused by the abuse when seeking medical treatment.

Five children of the suspected leader, who are in their 20s, denied the police allegations.

"They saw a family that didn’t fit the mold that everyone knows so they said, ‘Clearly the law is being broken,’ " one told Haaretz.

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